Combustible Celluloid
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With: Willem Dafoe, Ninetto Davoli, Riccardo Scamarcio, Valerio Mastandrea, Adriana Asti, Maria de Medeiros, Roberto Zibetti, Andrea Bosca, Giada Colagrande, Damiano Tamilia, Francesco Siciliano, Luca Lionello, Salvatore Ruocco
Written by: Maurizio Braucci, based on an idea by Abel Ferrara, Nicola Tranquillino
Directed by: Abel Ferrara
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 84
Date: 07/18/2019

Pasolini (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Pier le Fou

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Abel Ferrara's Pasolini, a fictional, affectionate account of the final bit of the life of filmmaker and writer Pier Paolo Pasolini, was completed all the way back in 2014. It played in European film festivals and then sat for half a decade before finally opened in the United States in 2019. It opened at the Roxie Theater July 5, and I'm coming to it even later than that. But it's worth the wait. While Ferrara is not gay — and the movie has been criticized for its straight views of gay life — he shares other similarities with Pasolini, who was murdered in 1975: Italian, Catholic, and a maverick. Pasolini begins with scenes from the filmmaker's final, controversial film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom; Ferrara faced similar controversy (to a lesser extent) with his Ms. 45 (1981).

In the movie, Pasolini (Willem Dafoe) dines with his mother, talks to a reporter, visits a friend, Laura Betti (Maria de Medeiros), types, talks about a novel he's working on, and outlines what he hopes will be his next project. Ferrara shows his own vision of this final film, a strange odyssey in which two men follow a star, seeking the messiah, and find themselves in Sodom at a kind of orgy. They continue on, seeking paradise, but find nothing. In this section, real-life Pasolini veteran Ninetto Davoli — who was to have appeared in the real film — plays the older man, while Riccardo Scamarcio plays the young Ninetto Davoli. Finally, Pasolini picks up a young man and drives to a beach where the murder occurs. (To this day, the exact reasons for his death are unclear. Some believe it was simply a hate crime, while others claim the possibility of a bigger conspiracy.)

Written by Maurizio Braucci (Gomorrah), the movie is bonkers by any narrative standards; while surrounded by Italians, Dafoe sometimes speaks plain English and sometimes attempts some rudimentary Italian. The tone is more impressionistic and experimental than it is biographical. But Dafoe nonetheless gives a fine performance, finding a combination of soft-spoken gentleness to contrast his image as a rebellious misfit. And, despite Ferrara's attempts to generate scandalous imagery of his own, he winds up with many sequences of touching beauty. To be sure, Pasolini will play about as well to today's mainstream viewers as one of Pasolini's own movies would, but those in the know will find this a fitting tribute.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray features two audio mixes, DTS 5.1 and 2.0 and optional subtitles. The transfer looks fine, with an emphasis on nighttime blues. Extras include a brief behind-the-scenes documentary, a 22-minute conversation between Ferrara and Dafoe, and a trailer. A liner notes booklet includes an essay by film historian Brad Stevens.

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